This Franchise Chatter guide on the new Pizza Hut menu was written by Brian Bixler.
If it has been a while since you’ve let your eyes wander across the various sections of a Pizza Hut menu, you might want to build some extra time into placing your order during your next visit.
In what has been characterized as the biggest change in its 56-year history, the world’s largest pizza chain has, in essence, doubled its menu, keeping all the favorites that customers have come to expect but also offering more than two dozen new choices meant to placate customers who are looking for more variety and the chance to customize their pizza and have it made exactly the way they want it.
Billions of Choices
In fact, executives of the company say the new Pizza Hut menu now offers customers more than 2 billion different ways to order their pie. That’s 2 billion, with a B. And an accompanying, multimillion-dollar advertising campaign is introducing the new options as “The Flavor of Now.”
And while Pizza Hut executives extol the move as the company’s method of getting customers to look at pizza in a whole new way, the company is actually playing catch-up with dozens of new fast-casual restaurants that have been offering much of the same (and more) to customers in a different format.
Pizza Hut is now going head-to-head with fast-casual custom pizza brands such as Blaze and PizzaRev, whose models are based on customization with an execution that is similar to that of Chipotle: Patrons move along an assembly line as they order a personal pizza with as much or as little of 20 or more various toppings.
The concept is very popular right now in the fast-casual restaurant sector with new stores opening at a fast rate in cities across the country.
RELATED: Franchise Chatter Guide: How Fast-Casual Custom Pizza Evolved Into the Hottest Franchise Concept of 2014
By eliminating the assembly line, Pizza Hut robs customers of the opportunity to choose the amount they want of a certain ingredient—leaving that decision up to the person behind the counter making the pie—but otherwise the customization process is the same with plenty of choice still left in the hands of customers.
So what’s new on the Pizza Hut menu? The big change is in the item that gives the chain its name: pizza. Pizza Hut has not only introduced a handful of new toppings, it also now has six sauces to choose from and 10 different flavors that can be added to the crust edge.
Perhaps the most unusual (some might even say disgusting) new change is the addition of flavor drizzles, which give some of the new pies a photogenic and aesthetically pleasing appearance. The drizzle, take balsamic, for example, spirals from the inside center of the pie out toward the edges. The spiral certainly makes for an interesting and perhaps tempting presentation of the product and has been prominently featured in the “Flavor of Now” commercials and other advertising.
Flavors of Now
So here’s the rundown of new flavors and ingredients:
Sliced Banana Peppers
Peruvian Cherry Peppers
Fiery Red Pepper
Garlic Buttery Blend
Ginger Boom Boom
Get Curried Away
Premium Crushed Tomato
Certainly some of these flavors are well-known to the American palate, but others such as curry, ginger and sriracha are probably less familiar to the average Pizza Hut customer and are certainly not the kind of flavors one would traditionally associate with America’s favorite food. In fact, one is probably so foreign, customers might not even know how to pronounce it when ordering.
For those who don’t know, sriracha is a type of hot sauce that originated in Thailand. It’s traditionally made from the paste of chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. The Pizza Hut menu offers a honey version of the drizzle topping.
Another incentive to go for the unusual: the crust and drizzle flavors are offered at no additional cost for the item. Furthermore, Pizza Hut menu prices are often offset by discounts and coupons as they have been in the past.
If a choice from some 2 billion different combinations boggles the mind, Pizza Hut has made it easy to try one of its more exotic pizza pies by featuring some new specialty pizzas, which now appear on the menu alongside old favorites like the Meat Lover’s and Veggie Lover’s. You’ll find those two options under a menu section of “Classic Recipes.”
But the real change comes under the “New Recipes” heading and includes some healthy choices as well as more indulgent varieties that seem to include everything but the kitchen sink. They are presented with what some might consider clever, fun and descriptive names. Here they are:
- Garden Party: Premium crushed tomato sauce, fresh green peppers, fresh red onions, fresh mushrooms, diced Roma tomatoes and fresh spinach flavored with the Hut Favorite crust edge and the balsamic drizzle. The menu suggests ordering this new offering on a Thin ’N Crispy crust.
- Old Fashioned Meatbrawl: Classic marinara sauce, meatballs, fresh red onions and diced Roma tomatoes, flavored up with the Hut Favorite crust flavoring and best ordered with a Pan crust.
- Cock-a-Doodle Bacon: Creamy garlic Parmesan sauce, grilled chicken, hardwood smoked bacon and diced Roma tomatoes, flavored with toasted Parmesan crust edge flavoring and best ordered on the traditional hand-tossed crust.
- Hot and Twisted: Crushed tomato sauce, premium salami, sliced jalapeño peppers and fresh red onions with a salted pretzel crust edge flavoring and best enjoyed with a hand-tossed crust.
- Pretzel Piggy: Creamy garlic Parmesan sauce, hardwood smoked bacon, fresh mushrooms and fresh spinach with a salted pretzel crust flavoring and balsamic sauce drizzle with a suggested hand-tossed crust.
- BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger: Barbeque sauce, meatballs, hardwood smoked bacon, fresh red onions and diced Roma tomatoes, flavored with a toasted cheddar crust edge and barbeque drizzle.
- Giddy-Up BBQ Chicken: Barbeque sauce, grilled chicken, hardwood smoked bacon and fresh red onions, flavored with toasted cheddar on the crust edge and a Buffalo sauce drizzle on hand-tossed crust.
- Buffalo State of Mind: Buffalo sauce, grilled chicken, sliced banana peppers and fresh red onions with a toasted cheddar crust edge and Buffalo sauce drizzle on a hand-tossed crust.
- Cherry Pepper Bombshell: Crushed tomato sauce, premium salami, Peruvian cherry peppers and fresh spinach with a toasted Asiago crust edge flavoring and balsamic drizzle best served on Thin ’N Crispy crust.
- 7-Alarm Fire: Crushed tomato sauce, pepperoni, sliced jalapeño peppers, Peruvian cherry peppers, sliced banana peppers and fresh green bell peppers with a crust edge flavor of fiery red pepper on a hand-tossed crust.
- Sweet Sriracha Dynamite: Perhaps the most intriguing (or disgusting, depending on your tastes), this pizza is constructed with the honey Sriracha sauce, grilled chicken, sliced jalapeño peppers, sweet pineapple and Peruvian cherry peppers, flavored with the honey sriracha crust edge flavoring and a honey sriracha drizzle on a Thin ’N Crispy crust.
And if that’s not enough (we’re not even close to 2 billion yet), the Pizza Hut menu also has a few offerings under a section of the menu characterized as “Flavor Pioneers” almost as if it dares you to try them. These are:
- Get Buffalow: A Buffalo sauce pizza topped with grilled chicken, sweet pineapple, Peruvian cherry peppers and spinach, flavored with pretzel crust edge and Buffalo sauce drizzle.
- The Jack G with Meatballs: Crushed tomato sauce topped with grilled chicken, hardwood smoked bacon, meatballs and finished with a Buffalo drizzle on a Pan crust.
- The Jack J with Salami: Crushed tomato sauce topped with grilled chicken, hardwood smoked bacon, premium salami and finished with a Buffalo sauce drizzle.
- The Official Ijustine: Crushed tomato sauce topped with meatballs, sliced banana peppers, Peruvian cherry peppers, pepperoni with Hut Favorite crust flavoring and balsamic drizzle.
- The Official Rooster Teeth Podcast: Crushed tomato sauce topped with premium salami, hardwood smoked bacon, fresh mushrooms, diced Roma tomatoes with a toasted Asiago crust flavoring and balsamic drizzle.
The sweeping changes in the Pizza Hut menu, observers say, were prompted by a number of different trends occurring in the restaurant business.
First off, customers may be more prone to venture into some of the more exotic choices on the menu if they are of a certain young age—namely millennials. Marketers have noticed that consumers under the age of, say, 30, are more likely to be more adventurous with their food and not only hunger for something that offers a new flavor experience, but actually demand it. And millennials are a coveted demographic in the restaurant business.
Secondly, there is a continuing trend for restaurants to offer items perceived as being more healthy. This might explain why more than half of the new toppings are vegetables, including fresh spinach.
The trend toward more healthy food would also explain why the new Pizza Hut menu includes what it calls “Skinny Pizzas.” The specialty pizzas boast no more than 250 calories per slice (or 300 calories or less if you create your own). The calorie reduction from a normal pie is achieved by a reduction in the amount of crust, restraint on the amount of meats and cheeses and an emphasis on vegetable toppings.
The menu offers tips in ordering (such as only red sauce, no double cheese, drizzles or crust flavorings and a maximum of seven toppings) to keep the calorie count low. Or customers can order one of five specialty Skinny Pizzas in which the calorie counting is already factored.
Of course Pizza Hut’s motivation for expanding its menu is also related to its bottom line, which needs some help these days. Sales have been steadily declining for the chain during the past two years and this move is being seen by analysts as a way to boost them.
So, while the new offerings might be seen as exciting to some and may even attract new customers, the company has done its best not to alienate old customers by keeping its core menu intact and just adding the new features.
The Pizza Hut menu still offers the same tastes it always did. There’s more to Italian food than pizza and the chain also includes pasta on its menu in limited offerings.
- Tuscani Chicken Alfredo: This is rotini pasta flavored with grilled chicken breast strips and drenched in a creamy Alfredo sauce with a layer of melted cheese. It is served with an order of breadsticks to increase the carbohydrate quotient.
- Tuscani Meaty Marinara: Hearty and traditional, this rotini pasta dish is flavored with an Italian-seasoned meat sauce, topped with cheese and baked in an oven. It, too, comes with an order of breadsticks.
In addition to being a leader in the pizza category, Pizza Hut has been giving Buffalo-style chicken wing purveyors a run for their money by offering a large selection of the popular dish as a side order or a meal. There are nine different varieties that can be ordered as an individual serving or in family-size portions.
Flavors include Buffalo Mild, Medium and Burnin’ Hot as well as Honey BBQ, Sweet Chili, Garlic Parmesan, Spicy BBQ, Lemon Pepper and Naked. The latter means no sauce is used to prepare the wings, which are served plain, crispy and crunchy.
The “Wingstreet” wings, as Pizza Hut calls them, can be ordered with an assortment of dipping sauces that include ranch, blue cheese, regular cheese, garlic and marinara. The wings are served up with a side of waffle fries.
Some time ago in the restaurant world, the dough of a pizza didn’t seem to be enough to satisfy customers’ carb cravings and things like cheesy bread and breadsticks started becoming an accompaniment to the main part of the meal. Pizza Hut is no exception to that rule with a selection of both breadsticks and cheesesticks.
But there are additional sides to be had including a signature item the chain calls “P’Zones,” which might be best described as a cross between pizza and a calzone, in portions that might be better seen as appetizers. There are meat and pepperoni varieties and a “Supremo” offering that mixes sausage with a variety of vegetables.
The final side or appetizer is the Stuffed Pizza Rollers, a concoction much like pizza rolls you might find in a grocer’s freezer. They are large rolls (sort of like egg rolls) stuffed with pepperoni and mozzarella cheese and sprinkled with Italian seasoning.
Rounding out the Pizza Hut menu are just a few desserts to top off a meal. One of the most recent additions prior to the chain’s big overhaul of its menu is the Hershey’s chocolate chip cookie: an oversize cookie served warm and cut into eight slices that can be shared by a big group.
Another communal choice might be the Hershey’s Chocolate Dunkers. These are baked dough treats topped with white chocolate and blended with Hershey’s milk chocolate and served with a creamy chocolate sauce.
Similarly, there are Cinnamon Sticks, which are also freshly baked dough topped with sugar and cinnamon and served with a side of white frosting for dipping.
There are other changes at Pizza Hut, including a logo change, more relaxed server uniforms and a website that emphasizes the ease of online ordering. But it’s the new menu, which has been called everything from bold to crazy, which is likely to get the most attention from consumers both old and young.